The final week of organized team activities (OTAs) for the Chicago Bears is underway. The club opened today's practice to the media and Bear Report was front and center. Let's go over all the on-field action.
Gabe Carimi is still working out on his own in Arizona and, as has been the case since OTAs began more than three weeks ago, he was not in attendance today.
Also absent were defensive backs Charles Tillman and Kelvin Hayden. These are voluntary sessions and we have not heard word that either player is injured. Most likely, they had a scheduling conflict and could not attend.
OL Jonathan Scott left the field late with an injury late in practice. A trainer walked him off the turf with his left hand and wrist wrapped in ice.
News and Notes from Week 4 OTAs
-On a positive note, WR Brandon Marshall, TE Fendi Onobun and K Robbie Gould all returned to practice today. Marshall participated in positional drills but was very limited in team sessions, getting just a few reps in 11-on-11s. Gould kicked during the special teams portions of practice and showed no ill effects from the calf injury that landed him on IR late last year. Onobun still looked somewhat hampered by the hamstring and did not participate in team drills.
-Evan Rodriguez, who was arrested and charged with a DUI this past Friday, was at practice and participated in full. He was working in his usual position with the first team and didn't appear to be hung over.
After practice, GM Phil Emery discussed the recent incident.
"Evan is a very likeable guy. We have talked," said Emery. "I'm disappointed. I would use the word extremely."
As to Rodriguez's future with the team, it doesn't appear as if the Bears are going to suspend him, with Emery citing league punishment as the next course of action.
"All off-the-field incidents are subject to NFL policies and guidelines, so we've go to work through those things," Emery said.
-During positional drills, head coach Marc Trestman spent a lot of time with the quarterbacks, particularly with Jay Cutler. The QBs were working on their read progressions and Trestman was especially interested in how Cutler worked his way through his first and second reads.
Trestman was hired to make Cutler a better player, so this isn't a surprise to see him take an interest in his starting signal caller. I expect we'll see much more of this personal attention as the summer wears on.
-In place of Charles Tillman, the coaching staff inserted Zack Bowman out wide with the first team. Until today, Bowman had been working as a second-team corner alongside Sherrick McManis. Obviously Bowman, who led the Bears in interceptions (6) in 2009, is next in line for playing time if either Tillman or Tim Jennings is forced to miss time.
In place of Hayden at nickelback was Isaiah Frey, a player we have highlighted on numerous occasions this offseason. Frey, last year's sixth-round selection, has looked very quick out of the slot and has made huge strides since his rookie year, one he spent on the practice squad. The fact he was working with the starters today says a ton about his development as a defender. If he continue to progress, he may not only make the 53-man roster this year but he could challenge Hayden for playing time on defense, especially if Hayden has another year like he did in 2012.
-During positional drills, receivers coach Mike Groh called out to his players, "Zs on the left; Xs on the right." In football parlance, the X receiver is typically the downfield guy, or deep threat, while the Z wideout is usually the possession man. I thought it would be interesting to show you who was lined up in which group, to give us an idea of how the coaching staff views each receiver.
-Two receivers stood out today: Jeffery and Anderson. The Bears are moving Jeffery around pre-snap, frequently sending him in motion. It's possible they are looking to create mismatches using Jeffery's size and speed against safeties or smaller nickelbacks. He made a couple of standard catches during team drills, then he put on a show toward the end of practice.
Jeffery lined up on the right side across from Jennings and ran fly pattern deep down the field. Cutler coiled up and launched a 60-yard bomb. Jeffery had a step on the defender and made a diving grab in the end zone. The play may not have stood had it been a real game, as Jennings was able to knock the ball out after Jeffery hit the ground (the Calvin Johnson "continuation" rule) but it was truly an amazing grab by the second-year wideout.
Anderson has been working with the second team all offseason and looks better every time I see him. Today, he was backup QB Josh McCown's favorite target on almost every passing play. And after Jeffery's diving catch, when he needed a breather, the coaches inserted Anderson into the starting lineup. That says a lot about where he stands in the eyes of the staff.
-There were also two standout defensive plays today. The first came from DE Shea McClellin during 11-on-11s. McClellin was lined up to the offense's left. RB Matt Forte motioned wide left before the snap. At the snap, Forte took a step inside on a screen route. Cutler took a step backward and fired it to his left. Yet McClellin jumped in the air and snatched the ball out of the air. He then outraced Eric Weems, a receiver, to the end zone. This play showed great awareness and amazing athleticism from Chicago's 2012 first-round pick.
The second really good defensive play came from Sherrick McManis, working at wide corner with the second team. Joe Anderson ran a seam route and McCown lofted a ball down the field. The pass was slightly underthrown and McManis undercut the receiver and highpointed the ball for an interception. He has a lot of value on special team but it's also good to see McManis making strides as a defender as well.
-Sticking with the defense, coordinator Mel Tucker is rotating guys with seeming reckless abandon. He has been moving defensive linemen around all offseason and today he took it to another level. At different points in the session, Tucker used second-team defensive-tackle combinations of Nate Collins and Turk McBride, a career defensive end; Collins and Aston Whiteside; Collins and Stephen Paea; Collins and Corvey Irvin; Christian Tupou and Irvin; and surely more combinations that I didn't catch.
What you'll notice is the presence of Collins in almost all of those DT combos. He is obviously locked in as the club's No. 3 defensive tackle. On the edges, McClellin, Corey Wootton, McBride, Cheta Ozougwu and Kyle Moore all took reps with the second team.
Tucker is experimenting like crazy right now, trying to find best fits for every position on the defense.
-At linebacker, youngsters Khaseem Greene and Jon Bostic were again working with the second team. Throughout OTAs, J.T. Thomas had been working alongside the two rookies, yet today, Blake Costanzo was working with the twos. We'll see if this sticks during mandatory minicamp next week but it appears Costanzo has leapfrogged his way into the second group.
-The first and second offensive lines have not changed:
When Scott left the field late in practice, fifth-round rookie Jordan Mills was inserted at right tackle with the second team.
-Tight end Martellus Bennett struggled today. He looked sluggish and just could not haul in a pass during team drills. Cutler looked his way repeatedly yet Bennett was not making any plays. Eventually, Bennett's body language appeared to go sour and he lost his hustle. Toward the end, he was actually taking reps with the second team.
Maybe it was just a bad day but the club's high-paid free-agent acquisition needs to get better in a hurry. If Bennett and Cutler can't create chemistry, the offense will struggle this year.
-With Onobun not participating in team drills, Kyle Adams and Steve Maneri took the majority of the snaps with the first and second teams. To this point in the offseason, Adams has been pretty nonexistent but obviously he's still in the mix for one of the club's three tight end roster spots.
-Final note: Devin Hester, who has been doing nothing but special teams work all offseason, switched from an offensive jersey to a defensive jersey today.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.